Top third-party funder Burford Capital has earmarked $50m (£38m) to finance cases led by women lawyers as part of a groundbreaking initiative designed to help close the gender gap in law by providing an “economic incentive for change”.
Burford said the Equity Project recognised the under-representation and under-compensation of women partners at leading firms in the UK and US.
To be eligible for the funding, the litigation or arbitration must have a woman as lead partner or client relationship manager, or be responsible for bringing the work in, or be run by a women-owned firm.
However, cases are also subject to Burford’s standard investment criteria, raising questions about the need for the fund.
A spokesman said it was designed to “provide the incentive” for women to act, while in some instances Burford would lower the size of capital required for an investment to enable women lawyers with smaller but meritorious cases to receive funding.
Burford said the project meant that law firms committed to gender diversity “can share risk with Burford and encourage women litigators to pitch client-friendly alternative billing arrangements to their management committees for new business”.
It would also enable women to pursue leadership positions in significant matters and “ease pathways towards origination and client relationship credit with a competitive edge for them and their firms”.
The Equity Project is a global initiative led by Burford’s Aviva Will, senior managing director of its investment team and formerly a senior litigation manager and assistant general counsel at US media giant Time Warner and a senior litigator at US firm Cravath Swaine & Moore.
She said: “There’s no question that there remains a significant gender gap in law. The question is how to close this gap—quickly. Diversity and mentoring programs play a part, but to change the outcomes more quickly, we need to change the economics.
“Burford has received thousands of requests for financing, but over the nearly 10 years we’ve been in business, under 10% were for matters run by women. We can and must change this—and we believe this capital commitment can have an immediate impact on women lawyers’ ability to generate business.”
Burford has also announced a group of Equity Project champions, and in London they are Sue Prevezer QC, chair of Quinn Emanuel’s international trial practice, and Sophie Lamb QC, global co-chair of the international arbitration practice at Latham & Watkins.
Christopher Bogart, CEO of Burford, added: “At Burford, half our senior leadership are women. We’re proud of that not only because of what it says about our culture—we also think it’s one reason for our business success, because as McKinsey and others have shown, companies with more gender diversity on their executive teams outperform on profitability and value creation.
“The Equity Project is about improving business outcomes and about closing the gender gap in law.”
In addition to committing capital, Burford said the project was intended to generate insights and awareness.
“Matters financed through The Equity Project will be analysed to study differences in outcomes and efficiencies in matters led by women.
“Additionally, Burford will partner with organisations devoted to changing outcomes for women in law, and sponsor events aimed at bringing together in-house lawyers, law firm leaders and rainmakers, and emerging legal-industry leaders.”